On my recent trip to Bulgaria, I visited the wonderful RKL Distillery, located in the village of Bial Briag.
RKL Distillery is small, but has extensive, beautiful organic fields of herbs such as Lavender, Melissa, Yarrow and St John’s Wort.
One of the three owners of RKL, Alex, graciously met us at the airport in Varna, Bulgaria, and spent the next three days with us. Alex took us to his distillery in Bial Briag and another distillery he supports called Little Arcadia, owned by his friends Antonina and Ivan, in Kipilovo village. Both distilleries are located in extraordinary old villages full of history and character.
We spent the first day in Varna, a coastal town along the Black Sea that reminded me of all the wonderful villages I love so much in France--outdoor cafes serving incredible food, people out on the cobblestone streets late into the night, and street performers playing music! What could be better?
The next day we drove for a few hours through huge fields of sunflowers in full bloom to Alex's distillery. RKL Distillery is located in an old stone building in a very charming, ancient village. We met Georgi, his distillery manager, who lives in the village with his wife Milka. Georgi owns 30 horses--one (Mladenka) who was kind enough to pull us in a cart through the village to their Melissa fields! We were told that Mladenka, the horse, was so smart that he could be a president!
I have pictures of the distillery, the people and the herb fields on my Flickr account (along with the rest of the Bulgaria trip).
What impressed me most about RKL was that the three owners, Alex, Alexander and Vili, all come to the business with different skills. Alexander is a landscape designer and knows the plants well, Alex has a background in international trade, importing and exporting, and Vili is what Alex called "the idea guy." For example, Vili came up with the idea to make their own pellets from sawdust to run the boiler for the distillery.
They are dedicated to organic growing and skillful distilling. Alex has also begun to work with other local Lavender distillers to combine their efforts to provide larger quantities of Lavender essential oils to companies around the world. Bulgarian Lavender is beautiful! I always think of Rose essential oil when I think of Bulgaria, but the Lavender is also amazing, along with the Yarrow, German Chamomile, St John's Wort and the other local herbs.
RKL are also the co-founders of BEOG - Boutique Essential Oils Group. BEOG is a commercial union of Bulgarian producers of rare organic and top quality herbal essential oils, brought together by common ideals and goals. RKL has years of hands-on experience in cultivated herb growing and distillation of essential oils, as well as profound commercial experience in international trade. The main task of BEOG is to unite various small farmers under a standardized and controlled production and distillation process, so their special products meet the high standards of world markets.
Currently, BEOG owns and runs more than 160 hectares (1 hectare equals about 2.47 acres) of Melissa, St John’s Wort, Chamomile, Elecampane, Wild Oregano, Yarrow, Rue, Winter Savory, Lovage, Angelica, Lavender and Dill.
The essential oil production in Bulgaria is impressive. It was deeply inspiring and heartwarming to see such large areas of herbs being grown organically, and such skillful distillation at each of the distilleries we visited.
As with most distilleries, the Bulgarian distillers tend to sell their essential oils in larger quantities for essential oil companies that import. If you want small sizes (1/2 oz--16 oz), Karen at Aromatics International sells a beautiful Bulgarian Rose absolute, and a deep blue Bulgarian Yarrow.
If these posts about distilleries interest you, my next post will be on the distilleries I visited in Crete, Greece.